A leading connoisseur and pioneering collector of his age, Thomas Howard 2nd Earl of Arundel (1585 – 1646) was a prominent member of the court during the reigns of James I and Charles I. He is known as the ‘Collector Earl’ due to his keen interest in art, an obsession, which, despite his great fortune, had caused him to build up vast debts by the time of his death in 1646. A descendant of the Catholic Dukes of Norfolk, he was one of the first great English collectors and a member of the Whitehall group, a circle of art connoisseurship that grew up in and around the court of Charles I.
His collection included works by masters such as Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Daniel Mytens, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Hans Holbein and Raphael. Many of his paintings remain at the family seat, Arundel Castle. Arundel and his wife had travelled to Italy on a trip to Venice as early as 1613, where they were introduced to the works of the great Italian masters. This was the first of the Arundels’ visits to the continent and they would return on a number of occasions. As well as giving them the opportunity to buy and bring back many works for their collection, these trips also inspired the Arundels to follow the practices of the nobility in Italy by commissioning works from the most distinguished contemporary artists. They were particularly drawn to the style of the Flemish artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens, whose work had been influenced by the great Venetian painters. Rubens received a large number of commissions from Lord Arundel and he appears to have held his patron in high regard, referring to
him as ‘one of the evangelists of art’.
This work is an early copy of the head of Lord Arundel from Rubens’ half-length portrait of the Earl, which currently hangs in the National Gallery in London. The work is of a very high calibre and clearly painted by a skilled hand as it does not exhibit the laboured qualities which mark out the work of lesser copyists. The artist has understood and replicated Rubens’ very subtle use of blue around the eyes and under the nose and lower lip to create a very naturalistic depiction of shadowing on the flesh. They have managed to create a real feel of wetness across the surface of the eyes, and the hair, as in the original, is brilliantly detailed and naturalistic, with individual hairs picked out and highlighted with the flick of a fine brush.